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Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Make Your Wish: Robert Kurtzman’s ‘Wishmaster’ Is Just as Fun, Fearless and Frightening 26 Years Later

The horror genre thrives upon cautionary tales where arrogant individuals believe that they can outsmart some supernatural force for their own gain. It’s for this reason that the greed-quenching Djinn and parables where people learn to be careful what they wish for, usually in the most morbid ways possible, are popular horror tropes. Djinn are a fascinating concept, but they’ve struggled to truly make their mark in cinema between largely-forgettable films like Jinn, The Djinn, Wish Upon, and even George Miller’s Three Thousand Years of Longing. But Djinn stories can still be fun and effective in the right context. And Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster is still the premier djinn horror film over 25 years later.

Wishmaster is a movie that understands the unabashed joys of a big, dumb plot where there’s a giant magical gemstone that’s the key to the Djinn’s powers because why the hell not? It doesn’t matter if the story is ludicrous because the practical and special effects are so impressive and it really aims for innovation when it comes to its kills, which it understands is what the majority of audiences care about the most. Wishmaster is not wrong and every death is so ludicrous and creative that it’s easy to look past any storytelling shortcomings or lackluster performances.

Likewise, the way in which the Djinn takes on a human form is by ripping the face off of a corpse and fashioning it to himself, which magically gives him the entire body of a human. It’s wonderful nonsense and just another excuse to show off impressive, stomach-churning practical effects rather than clever plotting. It’s the Djinn’s human metamorphosis that coincides with when Wishmaster really starts to get wild. Wishmaster is produced by Wes Craven and it feels like the movie cashes in on all of his connections. Wishmaster’s Djinn is the only slasher icon to claim the lives of Kane Hodder, Tony Todd, and Robert Englund.

Wishmaster is actually Robert Kurtzman’s second feature film as a director after 1995’s The Demolitionist, but Wishmaster didn’t open doors for Kurtzman as a director as one would hope. He wouldn’t direct another movie until The Rage and Buried Alive, a decade later in 2007. Robert Kurtzman’s misunderstood genius with Wishmaster isn’t dissimilar to Stan Winston’s failed trajectory as a director following Pumpkinhead, despite how it has similarly been revered as a cult classic. Curiously, Wishmaster 2 isn’t directed by Kurtzman, but instead Jack Sholder, who’s no stranger to horror sequels and responsible for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and the Tales From the Crypt episode, “Fitting Punishment.”

Wishmaster is undoubtedly best remembered for its off the wall intro that’s like a sizzle reel of what KNB EFX Group (Robert Kurtzman, Greg Nicotero, and Howard Berger) can do when they’re allowed to really run with something. The Angus Scrimm-narrated introduction is on a whole other level and crams a movie’s worth of spectacles into five minutes. There’s a skeleton that literally rips itself out of someone’s body and it’s not even the craziest thing that happens in this prologue showcase. It’s a sequence that cinema has struggled to top more than two decades later. It’s almost like a practical version of Cabin in the Woods’ monsters unleashed sequence that manages to be even more satisfying and grandiose. There’s an equally outlandish massacre in the final 15 minutes that bookends Wishmaster in these exceptional effects showcases where everything from wine glasses to piano wires weaponize themselves into macabre murder tools.

Additionally, the final act in the Djinn’s realm feels like it’s something from one of the better Hellraiser movies (it’s likely no coincidence that both films are written by Peter Atkins), but if it was directed by Tim Burton. There’s such creepy and evocative set design in this organic artery-looking labyrinth that Alexandra finds herself in while others are lost in a purgatory of never-ending torture, all of which is set to a haunting score by Harry Manfredini (Friday the 13th, House).

Kurtzman operates with such confidence and expertise here and every original monster, Djinn or otherwise, is at a Pumpkinhead-level of unique grossness that’s rare for the genre. All of Wishmaster’s accomplishments become even more impressive after learning that the movie was made on a shoe-string budget of approximately five million dollars. Wishmaster would go on to triple this with its domestic gross of $15.7 million, which makes it understandable as to why it would lead to three direct-to-video sequels.

Not only does Wishmaster look great, but it has such a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor that will delight any hardcore horror fans. Jason Voorhees himself, Kane Hodder, gets Djinned into glass and shatters, which is wild, but looks even more insane because of how much it exudes the late ’90s. These effects date Wishmaster in the best possible way. It almost plays out like a Fatality from a PlayStation/N64 era Mortal Kombat game. Tony “Candyman” Todd’s demise is the result of a near-impossible Houdini underwater escape act. Robert Englund’s Mr. Beaumont gets taken out by a Thing-like creature that feels like it’d be more appropriate in a horror anime. Plenty of other B-movie horror icons like Ted Raimi also become memorable cannon fodder for the Djinn. All of these are grisly deaths that would make Freddy Krueger, Candyman, and Jason Voorhees wince.

Wishmaster’s first half-hour is a little slow (beyond the tour de force introduction) and it takes some time to find its footing. Once the Djinn is out to play, Wishmaster never slows down. On that note, Andrew Divoff really works his ass off as the Djinn/Nathaniel Demerest, relishes every second of the role, and often makes Wishmaster work in spite of itself. Divoff’s performance is easily on par with Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhees and he’s able to take this character to even wilder heights in the film’s excellent sequel (do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a double feature). So much of the movie is just Divoff egging people on to make unreasonable wishes so he’s able to magically and karmically murder them.

Many of these individuals haven’t done anything wrong and don’t even understand what they’re doing. The most outlandish example of this involves a character who wishes that they were rich, only for Wishmaster to then deliver an extended cutaway sequence where the person’s grandmother signs her will, only to then blow up in an airplane so that her grandson inherits the money and has his wish come true in the most roundabout way possible. Wishmaster isn’t a story about the Djinn punishing those who are greedy and deserve to be taught lessons in humility, but more so a chaotic tale where a Djinn abuses the unique circumstances of his powers so that he can destroy as many people as possible, regardless of their guilt or innocence. It makes for a villain that’s both terrifying and entertaining where it often seems like it’s impossible to defeat. That’s a difficult tightrope walk for horror films to negotiate, but Wishmaster finds the right balance so that the Djinn can wreak chaos without compromise until when he’s suddenly stopped.

Wishmaster is very much a two-hander between the Djinn and Alexandra Amberson (Tammy Lauren). Unfortunately, much of Alexandra’s material pales in comparison to the Djinn’s unhinged hijinks (although her role as an intramural girls sports coach is an effective piece of character development). Alexandra’s psychic visions are the weakest part of Wishmaster and they sometimes feel like they’re from a completely different type of horror film. However, they’re never too big of a distraction in what’s already such an outrageous movie. Alexandra’s visions become an easy conduit to deliver the Djinn’s twisted crimes as soon as they happen and then repeatedly bombard Alexandra for greater effect as the film continues.

Wishmaster is strangely a horror movie that feels as at home in 1997 as it does in 2023. There’s too much fun going on here for Wishmaster to be denied (its sequels, not so much). Andrew Divoff has said that he’d happily return to the Djinn role on the one condition that Robert Kurtzman has directorial duties. Legacy sequels for Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Exorcist, and even Orphan are now viable cinematic avenues. Everyone loves an IP and it’s not that difficult to imagine Wishmaster: Legacy bringing Divoff and Kurtzman back together. 

It also wouldn’t hurt to make the wish explicit to any giant opal gemstones that are within earshot. 

‘Wishmaster’ is available to stream for free on Tubi, PlutoTV, FreeVee, and Vudu.

The post Make Your Wish: Robert Kurtzman’s ‘Wishmaster’ Is Just as Fun, Fearless and Frightening 26 Years Later appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3779819/robert-kurtzmans-wishmaster-is-still-horrors-signature-djinn-film-26-years-later/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=robert-kurtzmans-wishmaster-is-still-horrors-signature-djinn-film-26-years-later

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